The Task and Tools of the Daddy-Theologian
Most nights in the Bierig house right around 7:00 pm, I start the long ascent up the Mount Everest of our home known as “bedtime.” Post dinner and family devotions, Mal or I will turn to the other and say, “You ‘bout ready to put Levi down?” Thus, the ascent commences. It is a glorious (and sometimes grueling!) grind to get the kids in bed and headed toward REM sleep so as not to permanently stunt their growth! Along the way, just before they finally relent, ‘give up the ghost,’ and slip off into unconsciousness, I take up one of my most precious mantles in life—that of daddy-theologian. As daddy-theologian, my last herculean feat of the night is to read to them, and my greatest concern is for their soul. We are told that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12, CSB). This is sobering, is it not, dads? Fatherhood is a spiritual office handed down from God Himself, and we are told these now smallish souls are actually immortal and are headed toward one of two destinations.
My hope is to arm daddy-theologians everywhere with an array of ammunition deployable in the fight against the kingdom of darkness. Make no mistake about it, though it be but bedtime and bath time, you are in a war. Satan hates your family and is aggressively and actively seeking to devour them for his dark and nefarious purposes.
We will structure our evaluation along the lines of three principal divisions of theology: (1) biblical theology, (2) systematic theology, and (3) historical theology. Further, we will go about our aim by examining these resources based on three criteria: accessibility, theological acuity, and artistry. Admittedly, these are somewhat subjective and arbitrary, but in another sense, they aren’t at all. The most urgent issue for daddy-theologians is that they construct protective barriers around their children’s ears and eyes in order to protect their most precious thoughts—their thoughts of the Triune God. Thus, theological accuracy must be executed with the highest care. Accessibility based on age and cognitive development matters big-time. Art, and what it communicates—not just what it seeks to communicate—matters. The most urgent issue for daddy-theologians is that they construct protective barriers around their children’s ears and eyes in order to protect their most precious thoughts—their thoughts of the Triune God. Click To Tweet
The reason the artistry criterion is so important is because much of a child’s theology, up to age of six or seven in particular, is so inherently shaped and mediated by what they see on the page before them. When I read to my four-year-old or my almost two-year-old, their eyes are racing back and forth across the page, incessantly trying to reconcile what they see on the page with what they hear with their ears. They are reckoning the story with the illustrations. They are doing theology and forming their conception of God. Therefore, it is paramount that publishers strive to make biblical people look like they would have in their original time and place. I do not think scriptural people should look Caucasian if they were not Caucasian. It is not helpful. Furthermore, children are best served when artistic depictions err to the realistic side of the continuum rather than to the abstract.
Biblical theology is preeminent for at least two reasons: (1) Biblical theology aids your children in understanding the full sweep of God’s redemptive story. (2) By giving your children biblical theology, you are building the interpretational trellis by which they will interpret the Bible for the rest of their life. They need the whole in order to properly place the parts. The whole story of God’s redemption in real time and space will be one of the greatest gifts you as their daddy-theologian could ever bestow upon them. Children storybook Bibles, then, are a high-stakes game.
Gold Level– The Big Picture Story Book Bible by David Helm
Helm’s contribution gets the gold because it is the most biblically accurate children’s biblical theology on the market. Helm is a first-rate pulpiteer and practitioner of biblical theology, and it shows in The Big Picture Story Book Bible. When I read Helm to my kids, I never fear as to whether what I am about to read will hinder their burgeoning theology. Its only weakness, and it is significant, is the artistry. Again, I believe we should strive to make biblical people look as they would have at the time. I do not think Bible characters should be depicted as Caucasian if they indeed were not Caucasian. This is not helpful for our children’s conception of the world nor does it celebrate the transracial nature of our God’s kingdom. I would love to see Helm and Schoonmaker take another stab at the artwork aspect of this resource because it truly is the best resource out there. I highly recommend it.
Silver Level– The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung
I introduced The Biggest Story into our nightly routine when our oldest was about 15 months old. DeYoung is theologically on point and writes in quippy and memorable ways. He skillfully and sweepingly summarizes vast sections of Scripture with faithfulness and great acuity. The chapters are fast-paced and particularly useful for wiggly little ones who have short attention spans. The downside of this resource is that the artwork is maximally abstract. Because of Crossway’s choice to render more abstract artwork, it is difficult for children to make connections because the artwork they see on the page and the real world in which they live. Nonetheless, I heartily commend DeYoung’s resource.
Bronze Level– The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Lloyd-Jones was relegated to the bronze level because, at times, she plays too fast and loose with the text (see Jonah!). I appreciate her gospel focus, but she at times jettisons the power and the details of stories in such a way as to misrepresent them. One cannot skimp on theological acuity. However, the art is probably the best of the three mentioned thus far. With Helm and DeYoung available to me, I typically chuck this one and utilize one of the two mentioned above.
Honorable Mention –The Big Picture Interactive Bible Stories for Toddlers Old Testament/New Testament by The Gospel Project
The Gospel Project is an exceptional resource, and your church should utilize the curriculum if you aren’t already. I love where they’ve taken the whole enterprise since its inception! So, why just the honorable mention? Well, let’s start with what is commendable about this resource. First, the artwork is definitely headed in the right direction. However, they could stand to come a bit more to the side of making Ancient Near Easterners look, well, like they would have. Second, they are well appropriate for the age range they aim at. I have found this resource to be extremely useful for very, very young babies/toddlers. There is something to be said for just getting reps! I want my kids to feel that it is normal to read, and therefore they will more easily transition into reading God’s Word when they are able to drop the training wheels of a storybook Bible. So, it is a win, in and of itself, for your kids to regularly hear the words and names ‘Adam and Eve,’ ‘God,’ ‘Abraham,’ ‘obedience,’ and ‘Jesus.’ This resource provides the smallest of children in your midst with more reps. But here’s my beef, which knocked this book down to honorable mention: most of the brief entries, despite the name “The Gospel Project,” are really quite moralistic in nature, and the summaries are often man-centered. So, despite the fact that it was produced by the Gospel Project, it does seem to fall short of gospel focus. My suggestion to you is that once your child hits about 18 months or so, go ahead and switch to DeYoung or Helm. With that said, I do hope that The Gospel Project will take another run at producing a truly solid, gospel-focused toddler’s resource. No one is better positioned to pull it off.
Gold Level– The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever Knew by Marty Machowski
I could not recommend enough that you avail yourself of this resource! The brief, self-contained entries are not too short and not too long. The artwork is realistic, reflects the diversity of God’s kingdom, and pairs nicely with the content found therein. In my opinion, Machowski’s single greatest strength is his facility for creating and conveying metaphors. The combination of stellar artwork with his useful and accessible metaphors make for a resource that every daddy-theologian ought to utilize.
Silver Level– Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce Ware
Ware’s Big Truths for Young Hearts is a helpful resource aimed at providing parents of children ages 7 to 13 (my estimation) with a resource for wading out into the conversational waters of the deeper things of God. Our children are not quite to Ware’s target age range, and therefore I have not yet worked through Big Truths as extensively as I have some of the other resources I’ve recommended. But I didn’t want to fail in bringing it to your attention. In the future, I do look forward to integrating Ware’s resource into our nightly reading.
Gold Level– The Church History ABCs: Augustine and Twenty-Five other Heroes of the Faith by Stephen J. Nichols.
Not every night, but most nights, I read the kids two short entries from The Church History ABCs, which, as the title indicates, utilizes the alphabet to introduce key figures from church history. In all, it probably takes 3-4 minutes to read both entries. So, it is pretty low impact. The artwork is quite good. Nichols writes in a way that is enjoyable, cheery, and compelling for kids. He covers many different types of figures from church history: black, white, female, poets, theologians, queens, missionaries, etc. If I only had one resource to recommend to you in the area of children’s historical theology, this would be it.
Silver Level– Banner of Truth Board Books Set (4 volumes) by Rebecca VanDoodewaard
Banner of Truth recently came out with four short, really accessible children’s board books on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Katherine Luther, Susannah Spurgeon, and George Whitefield. And let me just say that I cannot wait for more additions to come out! Both my nearly two-year-old and my four-year-old love them. They are relevant and applicable for up to about six years old. Rebecca VanDoodewaard is the author, and in each edition, she focuses on a few particular aspects of her given subject’s ministry. For Susannah Spurgeon, she focuses on her book ministry to pastors amidst a lifelong, chronic fight with physical sicknesses and suffering. With Katherine Luther, she focuses on her willingness to serve her husband, her children, her many and constant house guests, and the greater cause of the Reformation while living in Wittenberg. With Whitefield, the focus is on his itinerate preaching ministry and the constant adversity he had to overcome in order to glorify God through magnifying Christ in his preaching. Lloyd-Jones (my daughter’s favorite!) concentrates on his going from a doctor of physical maladies to a doctor of souls. These little introductions are concise and excellent. Also, I appreciate that two of the four books actually cover female figures who were particularly industrious in God’s Kingdom. This is a strong and needed signal to little girls. Reading these two with little girls helps them create the needed mental categories for impacting the world for Christ. The artwork is very appropriate and engaging. I hopefully look forward to many, many more additions to this series.
Bronze Level– Reformation Heroes by Diana Kleyn and Joel Beeke
Similar to Ware’s Big Truths for Young Hearts, Kleyn and Beeke’s Reformation resource is a bit over my kids’ heads at this point, but I have had occasion to engage with it and recognize the value it holds for us in the very near future. The artwork is stellar—maybe the best artwork of all the resources mentioned in this post. The content is thorough and therefore quite useful for ages 11 to even 18 or so. I look forward to digging into this resource someday. If you have older children or teenagers, pick this resource up and introduce your kids to their rich theological inheritance!
Well, there you have it! A brief and hopefully helpful breakdown of some of the most useful resources out there, ready-made for daddy-theologians. With my four-year-old, I try to read a little bit of something from all three of these main divisions of theology each night. With my almost-two-year-old, I tend to simply read him a bit of biblical theology but will soon begin to introduce a bit of historical theology and, in due time, systematic theology.
So, give them theology, dad! More particularly, give them biblical, systematic, and historical theology.